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A few years ago Guitar Bob’s beater car gave up the ghost so he asked if I would drive him north to the used car lots to buy a replacement jalopy. Reluctantly, I said okay even though I had to go after my graveyard shift with no sleep. He was, after all, a friend. And one without wheels to get to work….

Walking into a used car lot is vaguely similar to driving the streets of Baghdad in an unarmored HumVee. It’s a landmine. You might make it back out, but you’re going to take incoming and there’s going to be casualties. At some point you’ll ask yourselves is this war worth it? Did you have an Exit Strategy? And who, in the end, is really the enemy? Or like General Sherman famously stated as he torched the South: car buying is hell.

Bob started out hoping to buy a vehicle for under $500. Not wanting to bust his bubble, I decided to forego the story of my last expedition into the minefields. He would learn soon enough. The Hard Way. The lot in Stanwoodopolis, just prior to closing its doors forever, showed him a $2500 wreck, bad tires, 175,000 miles on the odometer, a tranny that slipped, burned a little oil. Savvy buyers that we were, we moved on.

At a fly-by-night used lot in Burlington we found a nice little Honda, 200,000 miles, ran good, only $6500. Obviously they could rob you without a gun. Bob offered the nice salesman $5000 and he said wait right here in his office while he conferred with the manager. Bob was concerned the nice salesman would think we were gay. I said you got way more to worry about than some yahoo with a bad toupee’s opinion of your sorry manhood. In a minute, you’re gonna meet the manager.

Which we did. The manager said we seemed like nice boys and he sure wanted to work with us on this deal, put us in that car, ‘but fellas, I have to make a little money too. I can’t just give this away at a loss.’ He showed us paperwork that proved he was rock bottom on that $6500. But seeing’s how we were nice boys, he’d take a couple hundred off and take no profit. Bob said let me think about it and the manager said sure, sure, but don’t take too long, this beauty’s gonna sell today at this price. Outside Bob worried he’d thought we were parnters. I said I’ll sit out the next negotiation.

By late afternoon I’m fading from lack of sleep and food. It’s late, we’ve hit every shyster and crook up and down the pike, nothing is even close to reasonable and the notion Bob is going to shop for a week or two sends me into adrenaline-fueled panic. I drop down in the Toyota lot and forgetting about promising to stay out of negotiations, march up to a salesman coming out of the showroom side door. “We’re looking for a Toyota or a Honda,” I rapidfire. “$5000 or less, under 100,000 miles. The salesman doesn’t blink, he doesn’t hesitate, he smells the blood in the water and he knows instinctively exactly what to do.

“Your lucky day,” he smiles. “Just came in, hasn’t been detailed yet, but you boys won’t mind saving on that, one owner I’m pretty sure and the boss wants to move inventory, make you a helluva deal.” He points us over to where we just came from, past a line of cars with prices on the windshields and in my sleep deprived fog I realize he’s pointing at MY car. “Give me a minute and I’ll grab the keys from the office. Be right back. Go ahead and kick the tires.”

I regret, even to this day, we didn’t tell him we found the keys in the ignition and take him with us for a test drive. “These two gay guys, see, pulled over on the shoulder …. I thought maybe we’d run out of gas. Then I thought, oh my God, they’re going to do unspeakable things to me. But no, they said get out. Here? I asked. Here, they said. I called the lot and told them to call State Patrol, report a stolen car, even gave them the license number…. Ya know, I always said I could sell snowballs to Eskimos. But those two gay guys, I couldn’t close the deal on selling them their own car. I’m good, but I guess I’m not that good.

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